San Bernardino City Unified School District Director of Youth Services Ray Culberson this week publicly stated chronic absenteeism by high school students in San Bernardino is correlated with the recent proliferation of gang violence that has been plaguing the city.
In May, there was a spate of 12 murders within San Bernardino, most of which appeared to be gang related. In 2012, according to the FBI, the city had a homicide rate of 8.57 per 100,000. That rate was 13.33 in 2011 and 15.56 in 2010. Those statistics place San Bernardino second behind Compton as the most murder-prone municipality in Southern California in recent years.
One of Culberson’s primary responsibilities at San Bernardino City Unified is to see to it that students attend school and he has been carrying out a literal crusade against truancy, utilizing authority granted him through the district and the state educational code to issue citations to both the students caught skipping school and their parents.
On June 18, some 100 truant students and one or more of their parents were subpoenaed to appear at district headquarters.
The assembled multitude was then treated to Culberson’s exhortations, which boiled down to a demand that students attend school and that their parents take steps to ensure their children get an education and stay off the streets.
Playing hooky is a deadly pastime, Culberson said, indicating that ditching school is related to serious crime and violence. And that violence is particularly acute in San Bernardino, he said.
“I’ve known probably every kid who’s been killed under 26, 27,” Culberson said. “In fact, I’ve known a lot of the ones who did the shooting. I’ve had kids in my office on a Thursday, and on a Saturday they’re shot dead.”
The intense, no-nonsense Culberson, who has been the recipient of the “Beyond Boundaries Award” given for his commitment to providing services to the school district’s students, has also been credited with transforming the district’s School Attendance Review Board, which takes a relatively moderate approach to redressing truancy issues, into one of eleven model school attendance boards recognized by the California Department of Education.
But Culberson says that effort is insufficient and he is serious about utilizing stronger methods of persuading parents that their kids belong in school.
Under a California law in effect since January 1, 2011, parents of truant students can be charged with a misdemeanor and face a series of fines and punishments if found guilty, ranging from a $100 fine for the first conviction and reaching on the far end to up to a year of incarceration and a $2,000 fine for having chronically truant children.
Under the law, students missing school are placed in one of three categories. A truant is a student who is 30 or more minutes late to class on more than three school days. A chronic truant is a student who misses more than 10 percent of school days without a valid excuse. A habitual truant is a truant who continues to miss class even after school officials have taken corrective action with regard to that student’s attendance. The truancy rate in California is an astonishingly high 24 percent. Culberson says the truancy rate in San Bernardino is far greater than the state average, with close to 2,000 of the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s students habitually truant.
Throwing parents in jail, if need be, is something he is willing to do, Culberson indicated.
“I’m tired of watching kids get killed,” he told the parents. “And I’m tired of watching you die because you’re not in school,” he said, speaking to the students themselves.